Developer Product Briefs

An Open Source Stack for BPM

Immediately prior to its announcement that Intalio is donating its BPMS to the open source community, CEO Ismael Ghalimi spoke briefly with FTPOnline editors about the move.

An Open Source Stack for BPM
Business process modeling is on the verge of wider adoption. One solution is now available to the open source community.

Intalio announced it was donating its business process management system (BPMS) to the open source community under the Mozilla license as of December 12, 2006. It is providing its business process modeler (BPM) to the Eclipse Foundation under the Eclipse Public License (EPL) as well. FTPOnline spoke to Ismael Ghalimi, CEO and cofounder of Intalio, about the company's BPM product suite and its rationale behind going open source.

FTPOnline: What precisely are you donating to Eclipse under the Eclipse Public License?

Ismael Ghalimi: We are donating the Intalio Designer to the Eclipse Foundation. The modeler is an Eclipse-based tool for diagramming business process modeling notation (BPMN) business processes. Business analysts can use the modeler to draw any business process using BPMN, the modeling notation developed by the Business Process Modeling Initiative ( BPMI was originally based on work done in part by IBM and is supported by a variety of companies, including Microsoft in its Visio product.

The business analysts can diagram business process workflows so that they can understand and communicate workflow information. Designer also provides some level of semantic validation in a diagram; for example, you can't put a start point for a process anywhere but in the very beginning. What we are going to announce next week (December 12) is that our entire business process management system is going to be released under the Mozilla open source license.

FTPOnline: So we're getting a scoop here.

Ghalimi: From the larger standpoint, what is happening here is that we are providing the open source community with a full-fledged BPM solution, from code generation to execution as a full-fledged business process engineering language (BPEL) model. It can be executed on a BPEL server, enabling it to execute any business process or Web service, and do the human workflow as well. In other words, we're giving away the entire platform.

The goal here is to accelerate adoption. We thought it would get more use if we included execution in the package. What we've seen since we've moved to an open source model, we have grown from adding 12 customers in a normal year to adding 101 within the space of nine months. And we've done that with no salespeople. It seems the market is getting ready for an open source BPM solution, and we really want it to be ours.

They get a full BPM solution, with what I consider [to be] the best modeling tools available, plus the source code license to customize it to their own needs. We're also working with other companies to add additional diagrams, such as UML diagrams, for object modeling and data modeling, such as the UML class diagrams. We're also adding organizational diagrams; developers can use organization charts in adding human workflow.

This is an example of where there are a lot of things you can do in business modeling, beyond processes, and with open source many people can contribute to the solution. We want these tools to be the standard modeling solution going forward. We believe that open source might help create that standard.

The Eclipse Umbrella
FTPOnline: So how does Intalio make its money?

Ghalimi: That's a very good question. If you need more, you can upgrade to the enterprise edition. The enterprise edition provides for support and for patch updates. We also give you indemnification. If there is someone who thinks that our software violates their patents, they can sue Intalio, but they can't sue you.

We include some additional features that are useful to the application, including support for Oracle and WebSphere as well as support for business activity monitoring (BAM). Down the road, some of these features will make their way to the open source version. It's an ongoing process. It's purely a subscription, and those who purchase the subscription get a lot of additional value. On the other hand, the open source version is a complete solution.

FTPOnline: Why did you contribute the modeler to the Eclipse Foundation? What was your intent here?

Ghalimi: Our belief is that we should work with existing communities where they are relevant to our products. Modeling seemed to naturally fall under the Eclipse umbrella. When it came time to look at open sourcing our entire stack, we looked around for a license, and Eclipse didn't really have any projects that dealt with middleware and runtime. So we decided to build that business process community around our own tools, and make them available at Anything to do with modeling will go to Eclipse. Anything to do with BPEL will go to the Apache community, and all the other pieces will go to

FTPOnline: Why did you expand modeling beyond BPMN?

Ghalimi: When you do enterprise modeling, you are looking at all of the elements of your business. Processes are just one part of that. Organizational charts are one part of that. You would also like to model other parts of the business, such as collaborations and objects. Use case diagrams would also make sense. We felt if we really wanted to address the needs of the business analysts, we needed to move beyond process modeling. Even so, process modeling gets people's attention.

FTPOnline: Are you looking at supporting other execution engines beyond BPEL?

Ghalimi: We are not. That is one area where we are pretty religious. We believe that BPEL is enough, but because we are providing it as open source, others can add other execution engines, such as BPML. But we believe that BPEL is going to become the SQL of business process modeling. Our attention is going to focus entirely on BPEL.

FTPOnline: We notice that you're also supporting BAM.

Ghalimi: Yes, the way we do this is to allow business analysts to define key performance indicators, the amount of time to go from one step to another. It's the kind of thing you would like to monitor during run time, and to analyze data like that. The BAM component is integrated into both the modeling tool and the execution engine. The data is stored in an integrated data warehouse, and you also get a dashboard that lets you monitor the process data.

Give It a Go
FTPOnline: What is your vision of moving forward with BPM for the enterprise?

Ghalimi: Our vision is that by bringing an open source BPM solution to the enterprise it's going to significantly lower barriers to adoption. The cost of these tools can be enormous, even for a large enterprise.

FTPOnline: We understand that there's also a workflow framework component?

Ghamili: This [framework] lets an enterprise do task management. It can create a task for someone to perform an activity as a part of a workflow. It is a collection of tools that lets business analysts create forms and tasks and lets them integrate them as part of a workflow.

FTPOnline: Ismael, this is a very compelling story. We are going to go to download it ourselves and give it a try.

Ghamili: You can do so right now; every part of the suite is available for download. You don't need the source code to get started.

FTPOnline: It sounds pretty comprehensive.

Ghamili: Yes, it is. We can keep you busy for a long period of time.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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